Prince George will finally be getting its own passport office.
Karina Gould, the federal Minister Families, Children and Social Development, confirmed that starting in April the Services Canada office in downtown Prince George will have the ability to process passport applications.
“We’ve been able to expand 10-day passport in-person services to 13 sites across the country and I do want to reassure people in Prince George and in northern B.C., they are next on our list,” said Gould in a phone interview Thursday afternoon.
“As soon as April of next year there will be in-person passport service in Prince George. We’ve made these decisions based on where there’s a need, a high volume, but also based on distance from your passport office and I understand for folks in Prince George and northern B.C. that’s quite a trek to get to Vancouver or Kelowna and so we’re putting in the resources to make sure we’re up and running in the spring of 2023.”
As of right now in B.C., Kelowna is the closest city to offer passport services. The province’s other passport offices are in Vancouver, Richmond, Surrey and Victoria. For people who live in Prince Rupert and require express or urgent passport service, that’s a 17-hour drive to Vancouver in good weather conditions.
Starting in July, the federal government began adding 10-day service for passports at 13 Service Canada offices including three in Alberta - Fort McMurray, Lethbridge and Red Deer, four in Ontario - Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, Kingston and Barrie, two in Quebec - Rimouski and Trois-Rivères, as well as Moncton, N.B., Charlottetown, P.E.I. and Whitehorse, Yukon.
“We have worked at lightning speed to expand 10-day service across the country and have rolled it out at 13 sites, and we have a few more coming in the spring,” said Gould.
Asked why Prince George was not on that list this year ahead of cities such as Lethbridge and Red Deer that are within two hours of driving time from Calgary, Gould said the government fast-tracked the smaller Alberta centres to take the pressure off the two major cities, which until then had the province’s only passport offices.
“We were seeing upwards of 500 people a day in each of those sites, so there was a real imperative to spread passport services out around Alberta,” said Gould. “This is why Prince George is next on our list in the sense that we recognize the extraordinary distances people have to travel in northern B.C. to get a passport in person.
“It’s about making sure the offices are equipped and they have the technology but also the human resources to do that. You need to have either service officers that are trained in passports or passport officers present and the training for a passport officer is between 12 and 15 weeks. Passports are secure documents and they deal with sensitive personal information so we have to make sure everything is ready to go.”
After a year of lineups of anxious people waiting for passports that stretched for blocks in cities like Vancouver and Calgary, Gould said Service Canada offices across the country are now meeting standards for the time it takes to process a passport application.
That means someone who applies at the Service Canada office in Prince George at 1363 Fourth Ave., will receive a passport within 20 business days.
For travellers who apply in person at a larger centre like Vancouver or Kelowna that has passport service, the wait time is 10 business days or less.
Urgent/express service (between two and nine business days) is also available for people willing to pay higher fees - $50 for express service and $110 for urgent (next business day) service.
Gould said a triage system is in place in cities where the large bottlenecks occur and where people have to wait in long lineups.
Even after the Prince George office has passport service, people who require urgent or express pick-up service will still have to travel to the Vancouver office at the Sinclair Centre 100-757 West Hastings St. to have receive their travel document in less than 10 days.